2003 Results

Health module commentary

This module tried to do something which has not been done before, but which is becoming more and more urgently necessary. It tried to map, by means of mutually agreed indicators, the extent to which the activities of the major multiple food retailers support (or undermine) public policy goals to improve diet in order to prevent ill-health.

Clearly, any attempt to "measure" such a complex area will be fraught with difficulty, and the science of defining and quantifying impacts of this type is in its infancy. The questions have been devised to give an indication of retailers' level of commitment and action. Part of the objective (and achievement) of this module has been the consensual development of a set of workable indicators, which can be improved and refined in future phases of the project.

The retailers which submitted completed questionnaires (as well as those which collaborated in the development of the questions but did not go on to complete the questionnaire) are to be congratulated for their participation in the process.


There was a wide gap between the majority of retailers and the single best performer in this module, suggesting that there are identifiable differences in practice, and that the poorer performers can learn from the best. It must be borne in mind that the module asks retailers to consider issues which do not yet routinely feature in environmental or social responsibility audits, and in some cases asks for data which retailers may not collect for other purposes. One of the objectives of the module has been to encourage retailers to collect this data, and to consider the light it sheds on the extent to which their policies and activities support wider public health goals. The fact that the highest performer in the module was able to answer and score highly on most questions demonstrates the feasibility of this approach, and the scope for improvement in the sector as a whole.

Encouragingly, most of the retailers who submitted questionnaires this year were able to answer most questions, suggesting that the data being asked for is more accessible than previously. There are still gaps, but there was no question on which none of the retailers could supply data. Two questions were not scored, but were included to provide baseline data for future questionnaires.

There is a balance to be struck between asking for information that the retailers can readily supply, and challenging them to search for meaningful data that they may not previously have collected or thought important. In this year's questionnaire, it may be that the questions relating to indicator 7.4 (Extent to which sales support dietary guidelines), which were extensively modified in the light of retailers' criticisms, are not now challenging enough, in effect awarding "easy" points for what is already industry-wide practice, rather than discovering and rewarding outstanding performance.


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